Today is the 100 year anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme. The British Army suffered over 50,000 casualties on the first day. By November more than one million men had been killed or wounded on all sides. Laurence Vance has an excellent article to commemorate this horrendous and tragic event:
In addition, in following a link in Mr. Vance’s article, I came across this discussion of what was known as “shell shock” during WWI. In this the Year of Mercy, let us never forget that in time of war the scale is always tipped dramatically in favor of the merciless and the powerful.
from Driven Mad by the Horror of War by Tony Rennell:
“Every soldier lost to a diagnosis of shell shock was viewed not as a casualty but as ‘wastage’ — a reduction in the manpower needed to defeat the Germans. Compassion was now regarded as weakness. ‘Man up’ was the message from on high to those on the ground.
One recourse was to deny mercy to traumatised men who fled the battlefield. Death sentences for desertion and cowardice soared: 100 British soldiers were executed in the two years before the Battle of the Somme, and nearly 250 in the two years during and after.
Shattered nerves were no excuse. Rejecting a plea for mercy, Field Marshal Douglas Haig, the commander-in-chief, confirmed the sentence on one particular Somme soldier with an exasperated: ‘How can we ever win if this plea is allowed?’
Another general said of a private who went to pieces during a gas attack: ‘Cowards of this sort are a serious danger. The death penalty is instituted to make such men fear running away more than they fear the enemy.’
The deranged private was tied to a stake and shot at dawn.”
All of which made me think of this great antiwar classic: